Nicholas Nicosia, dentist at center of controversial East Avenue party, files defamation lawsuit
Nicholas Nicosia, a prominent dentist whose East Avenue mansion was the scene of a party last summer that was alleged to have parodied Juneteenth and pilloried liberals, has filed a defamation lawsuit against two of the gathering’s harshest public critics.
The defendants are Nate McMurray, a former Democratic candidate for Congress and a lawyer for a Rochester firefighter who has sued the city for being made to attend the party while on duty, and Rachel Barnhart, a Monroe County Democratic legislator, who was a subject of ridicule at the party.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in state Supreme Court, accuses McMurray and Barnhart of seeking to promote their careers by perpetrating “a hate crime hoax” against Nicosia and labeling him the host of the party and publicly branding him a racist.
“Basically,” the complaint read, “Defendants are the boys and girls who cry, ‘Wolf!’”
Nicosia has said, and his lawsuit maintains, that while he attended the gathering at his home, it was his wife, Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia, who organized the party. She is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The couple endured a spectacular fall from their perch in Rochester society after the party came to light last summer through a lawsuit against the city of Rochester brought by Jerrod Jones, the Black firefighter whom McMurray represents.
They became the subject of intense public ridicule and social media scorn from around the globe, and lost work and their positions on the boards of prominent charitable organizations. Politicians across the spectrum to whom they had given money vowed to either donate or return their contributions.
The mockery only seemed to worsen after the couple held a news conference with their lawyer at the time to clear their names, but at which Znidarsic-Nicosia acknowledged running a racist Twitter account.
It was then that Nicosia cast himself as an unwitting victim of the party, saying that he invited no one and acted simply as a host to his wife's guests, whom he called her "idiot friends."
Since then, according to the complaint, Nicosia lost more than a third of his dental practice clients and he has received hate mail and threats of violence. One of the exhibits used in the lawsuit was a hand-written letter suggesting that Nicosia commit suicide.
“Nicosia, was the sole owner of Nicosia Dental, suffered immediate harm as a result of Defendants’ smear campaign,” the complaint read.
Reached by phone, Barnhart declined to comment. McMurray did not return a message left for him Friday.
The lawsuit casts the party as a small group of about 10 friends who had gathered to poke fun at liberal politicians, including Barnhart, and claims that there was nothing racist about it.
The party was held on July 7 in the backyard of Nicosia’s home and included a menu of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a flag marking Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.
Among the attendees were a small crew of Rochester on-duty firefighters, including Jones, who came with their captain, Jeff Krywy. Krywy has since resigned from the Rochester Fire Department.
When McMurray announced about a month after the gathering that he would file legal action against the city on behalf of Jones, he referred to the event as a “Juneteenth spoof party.” That lawsuit is pending.
The litigation brought by Nicosia vehemently denies that characterization and takes issue with other allegations raised by McMurray and Barnhart, including that a “burlesque dancer” at the party portrayed Barnhart in a sexual manner.
The invitation for the gathering called the fete the “1st Annual Liberal Smashin Splish Splash Pool Party,” and Nicosia’s lawsuit seeks to cast the event in that light.
The complaint claims that the party was, in part, intended to celebrate the political campaign of LaRon Singletary, the Black former Rochester police chief who was running at the time for Congress as a Republican.
McMurray now faces two lawsuits related to the party at Nicosia’s home.
Earlier this year, Irondequoit Police Chief Scott Peters filed a defamation suit that claimed McMurray tried to impede the town from hiring him by spreading word that Peters attended the party. Peters insists that he never attended the gathering.
McMurray filed a counterclaim in April alleging that Peters’ wife had threatened him to stay quiet. He cast the police chief’s lawsuit as an intimidation tactic intended to “silence a critic who has made assertions in the court of public debate.”